Losing a Foot Never Held Her Back, Until She Tried to Join the Military

Hanna Cvancara’s dream is to become a nurse in the military, and she has been trying to achieve that dream for more than a decade. But every time she applies, she gets rejected.

It’s not that the 28-year-old couldn’t handle the job. She is working now as an emergency department nurse at a civilian Level II trauma hospital in Spokane, Wash., tending to bleeding car accident victims, drug users in fits from withdrawal, children in the throes of seizures and whatever else comes through the doors.

And it’s not that she can’t meet the fitness standards. She can do double the number of push-ups required, and has finished the timed 1.5-mile run with minutes to spare.

The issue is that Ms. Cvancara has only one foot and gets around on a prosthetic. So the military will not let her join.

“I’ve proven I can do the work — now I just have to convince them to let me do it,” she said with a somewhat weary smile as she left her hospital at dawn after a recent night shift. Her stethoscope was still draped around her neck, and she was wearing raspberry-hued sneakers — comfortable enough for a 12-hour shift and, as she noted with characteristic emergency-medicine dark humor, good at camouflaging blood stains.

The U.S. military has always screened recruits rigorously to weed out any who might not be able to perform. In some ways the standards have evolved over time. Flat feet, for example, stopped being disqualifying during the Vietnam War. More recently, childhood asthma and some mental health disorders ceased to be red flags. Despite stunning advances in prosthetics, though, the military still looks on amputees the way it did in the days of flintlocks and cannonballs.

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